The ‘silent’ recruitment of women fishers
The gender gap or the huge difference between the number of women and men registered as fishers, boat owners and quota holders can be related to several circumstances. The increase in registered women fishers in the last part of 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s for primary women fishers and some years later for secondary women fishers (Fig. 3) can in part be explained by an increase in the registration of fishers’ wives. The justification for registering themselves as fishers was that when wife and husband worked together, the money was kept in the household (Gerrard 2005). One of the women interviewed during the fieldwork in 2004 explained:
I had worked together with my husband for a long time. In the beginning, when the quotas were introduced, my husband was only allowed to fish a small amount of fish compared to what we were used to. I took the responsibility for the work on shore, for example the administration and the baiting of his long-lines. In this way, we kept the money that we earned in the household. I continued with this work until my husband passed away.
(Conversation in March, 2004 with a woman who registered as fisher when she was in her 50s and living in the municipality of Nordkapp).
The fishery adviser in the Nordkapp area had registered several women fishers in the Fishery Register and explained:
I know most of the local fishers in this area. I also know how hard the women have worked: baiting the long-lines, washing the boats and doing other fishery-related duties. As I see this work, it is a part of fishing and should be registered.
(Conversation with the fishery adviser, Honningsvåg, March 2004).
Registration formalised women’s labour and made women, and women’s labour more visible in the statistics.
Some years later, when the quotas became larger, there were additional incentives for women to become fishers:
I have always wanted to go fishing. Now the quota is bigger, I saw the chance to leave my job and start fishing and go to the fishing grounds with my husband. I like it, but it is a lot to learn, for example, I must improve my skills to handle the wheel when we come into the harbour.
(Conversation in April 2004 with a women fisher, 47 years old, living in the municipality of Nordkapp).
Many women fishers are partners to male fishers. For example, in 2017, a young woman in her 20s from Nordland said that she was ‘recruited’ by her boyfriend:
He told me about his job and asked if I wanted to try going fishing with him. That was a chance I could not reject. Now, I am thinking of buying my own boat.
(Conversation at the meeting for professional women fishers, May 2017.)
In other cases, becoming a fisher may be part of a personal rebellion against gendered expectations. A woman from Troms and an active member of the Fishermen’s Association explained in an interview in Nordlys, the regional newspaper, that she ‘rebelled at home as a little girl and broke the gender patterns that were very set at that time when only the boys got the opportunity to go fishing with their father. She and her sisters were finally allowed to go with him. When she decided to be a fisher herself many years later, she did not hear a single negative word—from anybody, and she does not regret it: This is the best in life. The sea. The silence, and to search for fish (Citations from Nordlys 23.6.2018). In an interview about the special arrangement of the recruitment quotas for young fishers, she said that young women should also be allocated a recruitment quota so that they can be professional fishers (Johansen 2018).
Gender, age and childcare
On examination of the Fishery Register’s municipal list of Nordkapp, women represent 10% of registered fishers. Of the 24 registered women fishers, most are middle-aged, with only seven born in or after 1980. Previous studies have confirmed that women in their 20s and early 30s often leave fishing to establish households, have children, continue their education or start other jobs (Grimsrud et al. 2015). The study also confirms that while both women and men leave fisheries to take on other careers, men’s experience in fishing is more likely to be transferred to their next job. For example, men can apply their sailing experience to working in the offshore petroleum industry. By contrast, women tend to transition to caregiving or retail careers, where their fishing experience is less relevant. Part of the reason why women leave fishing when they have children is because the working conditions are incompatible with the demands of child raising. While there are examples of men fishers increasing their contribution to domestic responsibilities, women remain the primary caregivers of children (Gerrard 2013). Furthermore, official Norwegian state and municipal structures have yet to be established to respond to such labour needs. For example, childcare services, when available at all in fishing communities, do not operate during fishing working hours (Gerrard 2005). When women’s responsibilities for childcare diminish as children get older, women may have more opportunities to go fishing. This is reflected in the data with a consistent decrease in the number of women fishers in the 30 to 39-year-old category, with slightly higher representation among younger (< 30) and older (40–49) women (Fig. 4a).
Finnmark has the highest proportion of women fishers, boat owners and quota holders, and there has been an increase in the representation of women in recent years (Figs. 5 and 7). One reason for this high level of representation is that fishing resources are available close to land almost all year around. Finnmark also has a long tradition of coastal fisheries using boats under 15 m, and women are more likely to own smaller boats.
Additionally, the increase may be part of a larger trend of increasing fisher numbers (both women and men) due to the availability of the King crab quota for fishers living in the municipality of Måsøy and other coastal municipalities eastwards towards the Russian border. King crab catches have been a good source of income, and these quotas are in addition to other open group quotas (Gerrard: Fieldwork in Nordkapp 2017).
Behind such social patterns, there are informal and unspoken rules of behaviour that relegate women to the shore and men to the sea. As pointed out above, gender division of fisheries labour has been taken for granted, and women’s onshore work was not always counted or valued in the household, community or on a national political scale (Gerrard 1983, 1995, 2007). The gender gap is thus maintained by structural conditions and hidden, undiscussed and invisible cultural codes and values that are taken for granted (Ellingsæter and Solheim 2002). Women fishers and the differences between men and women fishers represent even today what Bourdieu called doxa. In other words, these relations and differences between women and men are seldom questioned or discussed in the media or other public forums.
Does the quota system strengthen the gender gap?
Since the inception of the quota system, the number of women fishers, boat owners and quota holders has remained very low, suggesting that gender equity in fisheries has not benefited from changes to the quota criteria and structure over the years. There are important differences between closed and open groups that illustrate some of the ways that women have been marginalised by the quota system. As documented earlier in this article, most women in Norwegian coastal fishing have boats with a quota in the open group. Such quotas represent a way of earning an income, though quotas in the closed group can result in greater capital accumulation, especially when quotas are sold. Indeed, having a boat with a quota in the closed group is more profitable, and hence gives owners more opportunities to buy, larger, newer and potentially safer boats. Additionally, fishers who received closed group quotas for free in the 1990s can now sell their quotas for a substantial amount of money. Few women received closed group quotas in 1990. In Finnmark, there were less than three women in this category (Gerrard 2007).
There have been efforts to address the prohibitive cost of buying closed group quotas, particularly for young fishers. A special arrangement, called ‘recruitment quotas’, is distributed annually by the Directorate of Fisheries with the intention of increasing the number of coastal fishers under 30 years old. The number of quotas and the criteria were decided upon politically (Fiskeridirektoratet 2018a). The selection criteria prioritise fishers who are (1) young (under 30 years old), (2) boat owners, (3) having fishery training, (4) working full-time in the fishery and (5) earning at least 200,000 Norwegian kroner (NOK) from fishing annually. In the last ten years, the programme has given out 120 closed group quotas to men, and only one to a woman (Fiskeribladet 2019; St. meld. 32 (2018-2019.pkt. 3.5.3.; Andøyposten 2016). Most women fishers do not fit the qualification criteria for multiple reasons. While young women do enter the fishery, many women also enter the fishery after they have had children and are thus older than 30 (Nordlys 2018). Younger women are also less likely to own boats. Moreover, women tend to receive formal training from non-fisheries programmes such as health. Hence, the selection criteria essential disqualify women from receiving a recruitment quota.
The other pathway to obtaining a closed group quota is to buy it, but again, women are often at a comparative disadvantage. Women have stated that they often lack the leverage capital to buy a closed group quota (Ekrem 2018). Furthermore, women fishers also report that banks hesitate to give loans to open group holders. Thus, women fishers are seldom in a position to buy a new and perhaps a bigger and safer boat or a quota without a bank loan. The difference between the number of women and men fishers with quotas in the closed group continues to remain substantial.
Boat and quota ownership are also linked to political power. It is the men who hold closed group quotas, often several quotas, who have important positions in fishers associations and are most likely to be interviewed by the media, though with some exceptions (see for example Kyst og Fjord 2019). Such facts may also explain why few women coastal fishers refer to themselves as vessel owners (redere) or organise their vessels in limited shipping companies (rederier), as many men fishers do (Gerrard 2013).
Hopes for the future: women fishers and their political initiatives
Development among women fishers and their lack of access to quotas in the closed group has taken place in a period where fishing has intensified and led to an even more capitalised, professionalised and male-dominated ownership structure compared to what Munk-Madsen (1996) and Power (2005) described earlier. Women are at a disadvantage in either buying quotas or receiving recruitment quotas. It is the less predictable and less profitable open group quotas that help women to establish and maintain themselves as fishers. The male-dominated ownership of boats and quotas in the closed group, combined with few measures to improve women fishers’ situation, has, so far, contributed to the maintenance of gender differences and a lack of equality in fishing and fishing policies. The numbers and the discussion presented above indicate that gender equality in fishing and fisheries is still far off in Norway.
Previous efforts made by women to improve their position in fisheries have focused more broadly on women in fishery households and fisheries in general (Gerrard 1995), and less as their individual roles as fishers. There have been efforts focusing on women’s issues and to improve women’s representation in fisheries and fisheries governing organisations, but these have been met with barriers. The Fishery Sector’s Women’s Committee (1991–2003) was closed down (Lotherington & Ellingsen 2002:18; NSD undated) under the pretext that the committee did not serve the fishery, only the coastal and fishery communities. The Regulating Committee was replaced by a meeting that did not need to meet the criteria of 40% of the underrepresented gender in the committee (Equality and Anti-Discrimination Act 2019). The plan for more women in the marine sector came up with some objectives but formulated few means to increase women’s participation as professional fishers (Handlingsplan for økt kvinneandel i marin sektor 2007).
More recently, women fishers have begun to organise and publicly highlight the challenges they face. In 2017, women fishers initiated a conference with themes on gender equality in fishing, how to stop discrimination, how to organise and improve women’s rights as professional fishers, as well as recruitment and better working conditions for women fishers (iFinnmark 2017; NRK 2017). More than 20 women, of which 15 were women fishers, attended the meeting and shared experiences of how to get trainee places on boats, how to manage and combine fishing and family life, how to improve the recruitment of women into fishing, financing questions related to motherhood, pregnancies and women’s maternity leave, especially for boat owners, how to get support for buying or getting a quota in the closed group and how to organise work to promote their rights as women fishers. However, these women felt they were too few to create a separate organisation, and instead argued for greater representation of women in the Norwegian Fishermen’s Association (Norges fiskarlag). Informally, some women from East Finnmark also argued for membership in the Norwegian Coastal Fishermen’s Association (Norges Kystfiskarlag). The women present at the meeting, as well as other women not present, created a virtual network through e-mail and a Facebook group (Kyst og fjord 2017). After the meeting, some of the women continued to protest for gender equity within fisheries by meeting a representative from the Norwegian Fishermen’s Association. Efforts by these groups have focused on expanding labour flexibility regulations to include pregnancy and childcare, as well as changing the selection criteria for obtaining a closed group recruitment quota. Some efforts have been more successful than others.
The tangible outcomes of these efforts and organisation were few until some recent regulation changes relating to pregnancy and maternal leave for registered open quota fishers. In 2018, a husband and wife who were both registered fishers and boat-owners discovered that the regulations on open group fishers allowed them to hire replacement skippers when they were sick or had to leave for political action, but there were no provisions for pregnancy or childcare. This meant that regulations to allow for greater labour flexibility did not take women or women’s reproductive labour into account. This oversight was fixed with a special regulation that now covers women fishers who are pregnant or have children up to 2 years old (Fiskebåt 2018). The expansion of these rights to cover parental leave for male fishers and parents with a sick child will be discussed in 2019 (Nærings- og fiskeridepartementet 2018; Fiskebåt 2018).
Another focus is redefining the criteria for obtaining a recruitment quota in the closed group, which are distributed to increase the number of young fishers. Due to selection criteria that indirectly excludes women, only one out of 120 recruitment quotas has been given to a woman (Fiskeribladet 2019; St. meld. 32 (2018-2019.pkt. 3.5.3.). The cultural and structural barriers that lead women to establish themselves as full-time fishers at an older age than men make them less likely to meet simultaneously the age, boat ownership and full-time fisheries employment criteria. Recognising this gender equity issue, a local branch of the Fishermen’s Association in Tromvik, Troms county, proposed that half of all new recruitment quotas should be given to women (conversation with Johansen 2018). When the board of Fiskarlaget Nord handled this proposal, they underlined the principle of ‘same possibilities’, emphasising a need for selection criteria that would give women and men equal chances to be rewarded recruitment quotas. The board members recognised that there are good reasons for defining different age criteria for women and men, given the birth and childcare factors that lead women to full-time fishing at an older age (Fiskarlaget Nord 2018). The board adopted a proposal with different age criteria for women and men, as well as underlining better practices for financing boats and equipment. However, the political authorities hesitated in making the criteria responsive to gender equity, and the age and earning criteria were unchanged. Despite additional instructions from the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fishery to the Directorate of Fisheries that they give priority to a woman with equal standing to a man (Fiskeribladet 2018), all ten recruitment quotas for 2019 went to men (Fiskeribladet 2018). The minister of fisheries commented in the media:
Unfortunately, most men fill the defined criteria. The government will continue to consider possible actions to increase the number of women fishers, the minister Nesvik wrote (Dessverre er det fortsatt klart flest menn som fyller disse vilkårene. Regjeringen vil fortsette med å vurdere mulige tiltak for flere kvinnelige fiskere, skriver Nesvik) (Kyst og Fjord 2018).
This example illustrates that the discussions on gender equity in fisheries sit within a larger political context where young male fishers feel disadvantaged because it is difficult for them to enter the closed group (though not quite as hard as it is for women), but also established fishers are pushing back against recruitment because their quota has recently been reduced by about 20%. In response, the Minister of Fisheries has noted that recruitment quotas no longer serve their aim and in their current form will come to an end (Fiskeribladet 2019; St. meld. 32 ( 2018-2019). St. Melding 32 ( 2018-2019) suggests reducing the number of recruits to five per year and introducing a ‘bonus supplement’ lasting for 5 years, but still valid only for fishers younger than 30 years old.
These examples show that women small-scale coastal fishers have to relate to a public fishery political discourse coloured by gender blindness that nonetheless has gender consequences, especially for women. When women meet as professional fishers, participate in public debates and agitate for change within their associations, they demonstrate their willingness and advocacy to improve women’s working conditions. However, except for the special rules for pregnant women and women fishers with small children, little seems to have changed in fishery politics or policies to favour women fishers.
While politicians agree in public that changes should be made, they also appear to be responding to hidden and unspoken rules that act as barriers to real change (Ellingsæter and Solheim 2002). As long as such informal ’rules’ are not discussed, but taken for granted, women’s minority position in fishing will also be taken for granted.